Despite it being the Ugadi festival on Saturday, Sharath still went ahead with the Saturday conference this week. I made sure I was sat close enough to hear clearly, and was poised with my pen, ready to scribble down as much of it as possible again, in order to write up my notes later for those who weren’t able to be there. However, he began by asking that we didn’t record or publish the transcript of the conference on the internet, as he was aware people were doing – he said the conferences were just for those of us who were there in person and asked that we put our phones away and only take notes for ourselves. I don’t know if this statement was prompted by my blog post last week but, regardless, I felt suitably chastened! I am starting to wonder whether I am the ‘problem child’ of the KPJAYI community… 😉 I do understand though – I guess it protects his intellectual copyright and also protects us students, who have paid to be in attendance at the shala to listen to his words.
Anyway, of course I will respectfully heed the main man’s wishes, so apologies to anyone who was expecting the full transcript again (and apologies to Sharath for my unintentional indiscretion last week). However, I am sure Sharath won’t mind if I just share one tiny aspect of the conference, which really struck a chord with me and gave me lots of hope and inspiration.
Basically, I am a massive tree-hugging nature lover who works as a botanist and ecologist alongside my yoga teaching. Nothing makes me feel more at peace and happy than being outside, surrounded by the sounds and industry of nature. Nature’s varied beauty and ingenuity never fails to amaze and inspire me, and it gives me something to believe in. I guess my belief in the purity, truth and power of nature is as close as I get to devotional worship.
Conversely, I struggle with the concept of devotional worship of deities, religions and gurus – i.e. anything ‘man-made’. My trip to India has certainly massively challenged my aversion to the devotional side of yoga (bhakti yoga), as devotion is highly visible in this most spiritual of countries. In the comparatively spiritually deprived west, for many people the concept of surrendering to anything, yet alone an invisible god, is something alien, suspicious and to be feared; it is not really in our self-preservationist, ego-led culture to ‘surrender’, as a general rule.
However, being in India and meeting so many devotional people, both Indians and westerners, has challenged my narrow perspective and shown me how devotional worship has huge benefits for those who choose to and are able to surrender themselves to it. For a start, it is the key to open up the channels for faith to flow, and the huge, almost uncanny benefits of faith on body and mind are widely documented. However, for myself, I’ve felt I’m just not there yet and, at this stage on my journey, I’ve not been sure if I ever will be or, indeed, if I even ever want to be. And this has been one of the biggest things playing on my mind over the last few months, as central to yoga philosophy is the need to surrender to ‘god’ (by which is meant whatever manifestation of the higher consciousness you choose to worship).
The requirement to surrender to god appears as one of the niyamas in the second limb of yoga (ishvara pranidhara), and has always been a sticking point for me – the rest are no-brainers, but I’ve always struggled to accept this one, and have suspected it’s holding me back from the yoga path, and have therefore often wondered whether I should even be on the yoga path if I can’t accept one of its fundamental tenets. Yet, I’ve always continued on the path regardless, knowing that I’m on a journey and answers will no doubt come when I’m ready.
Well, at Saturday’s conference, an answer came, and it was one which had been there in front of my nose all along, I just hadn’t realised it.
Sharath talks a lot about the importance of following and surrendering yourself to a guru – for him it was Pattabhi, and for Pattabhi it was Krishnamacharya. But on Saturday, with these words, I realised I already had my guru, and it was one I totally trusted and felt immense love and respect for – it was nature itself:
‘If you go from the city straight to the jungle, everything changes. Everything is peace. Nature is a very great teacher. Nature is the biggest guru… My grandfather used to sit in padmasana in the jungle. Everything becomes silent, there are just the birds singing. This is dhyana, where everything becomes still and nothing disturbs you… When you go into nature you never want to come home; everything is stable. When you go to the big city people are unstable, everyone is trying to get ahead, and you want to run away!’
And, later on he said:
‘Everything is connected. Every living thing is important. Once you sense this and understand this, this is yoga.‘
So it seems that the translation of ishvara pradhara is very wide – it is the surrender of yourself to the knowledge that there is a greater intelligence and power, in whatever way is meaningful for you. Through being in nature, this is something I have felt for as long as I can remember, even though I couldn’t have put such words to the feeling as a small child lying happily in the long grass of a meadow, communing with the insects.
Inspired by this idea, yesterday evening Chris and I made a pilgrimage to the 500 year old banyan tree that lies just outside Mysore. As I wandered around its thick suspended roots, touching the warmth of the bark and the softness of its leaves in the evening light, wondering what sights the tree had seen in its life, I felt its energy, its history, its gentle wisdom and its benign protective presence. I felt a sense of awe, peace and happiness to be there, sharing its space. A small shrine was nestled in the heart of its roots, and the devotional candles and piles of coloured powder augmented the experience, but served to consolidate the realisation I’d had – that for me, the tree itself was the temple, it needed no additional adornment.
And this is a happy thought for me – without having realised it, I’ve been worshipping at the temple of nature my whole life, and will never stop. I’ve always felt this sense of humble awe, gratitude and love in nature, and I expect my face as I walked around the tree, mirrored those of devotional pilgrims to temples and churches across the world. So thank you Sharath for unwittingly sparking this realisation. I do have faith after all – faith in the divine quality of nature, and faith in my practice. And that feels good… 🙂
Worshipping at the tree temple.
Vrksasana, tree pose of course! 😉
Paying homage to the immense talent of Christina Love-Hewitt, whose photo of the tree inspired our visit… 🙂